02 October 2009

Save the Sandwiches

The Atlantic Food Channel | Why I Want to Save the Deli

David Sax writes about the decline of the traditional Jewish deli. A noble topic indeed. Best of luck to him and other defenders of the delicatessen.

I have a more general lament, and that's for the sandwich shop. There are a ton of places you can get a sub these days. Way more than when I was a kid.* Jimmy John's got me through college. I appreciate Quiznos. Subway is ... okay. They're nice to have around. But sometimes I want a non-sub/hoagie sandwich. And I don't like ordering off of a pre-defined slate of sandwich options. That's why I can't really get behind Potbelly, as good as it can be, or local favorite Booeymonger, though that place is still awesome. I need a place you can go in and just say "roast beef and Swiss on wheat, with mayo and tomato," not search the board for whatever lame proprietary name they have for a roast beef sandwich, then specify that you want Swiss instead of pepperjack, and hold the lettuce, and put it on wheat instead of a roll, etc. Those kinds of little sandwich shops used to be all over, tucked away next to the bank in the strip mall, or in the lobby of office buildings. My father used to take me out to those places when I went with him on errands. I don't think I've ever been to a McDonalds with him, or a Wendy's, or a Taco Bell. But I went to a ton of different sandwich shops around Bethesda with him when I was growing up, and they're almost all closed now. Those were good places. I miss those places.

* Unnecessary biographical detail: there was a Jerry's Subs & Pizza about 15 minutes away, and Philladelphia Mike's close by offering good cheesesteaks, but that was it.** Mike's also did a great turkey salad sandwich. Have you ever had turkey salad? It makes chicken salad look like the slow kid at the back of the class who chews on the collars of his shirts all day. And I like chicken salad.

** Attention Special Lady Friend and all other angry, territorial Philadelphians: I am not claiming that Mike's cheesesteaks are as good as you all have. You're the best, I get it. But they're about as good as they come this side of the Mason-Dixon. You've got to allow me that. (I have learned through trial and error to be extremely defensive when praising the steak sandwiches from further than one marathon away from the Liberty Bell.)

The best steak sandwich I've had was from a stand in Reading Terminal Market that was closed, perhaps for repair and perhaps permanently, last time I was there. Our go-to place for steaks is Garrett Hill Pizza in Rosemont. I'm sure you're all relieved to know. Sorry. You know how some people get to talking about their babies and then can't shut up? That's me and sandwiches.

PS I just can't shut up about sandwiches. Whenever my father comes back to town now we always grab an Italian cold cut sub from Vace. (Warning: embedded music on that page.) I just couldn't write a post about my favorite local places to get a sandwich, especially a nostalgic one, and not mention Vace. Yeah, I know, the whole point of this post is that I want more places to get a non-sub sandwich, but sweet Jesus, their cold cuts are fantastic and their rolls are sublime.


  1. Huh. I'm pretty sure I'm at least a decade older than you, but I've virtually never been to the sort of "make your own sandwich" shop you describe, and have no impression that they were just places we didn't go (if you know what I mean).

    I wonder if that's a regional thing, or small town versus city, or just a facet of life I completely missed out on?

  2. I may have to rethink my personal history of sandwiches if that's the case.

    Attention any culinary historians who may see this: I would love for someone to actually write a history of modern sandwichcraft.